Printable Version
Pronunciation: sowl-stis Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. The moment when the sun is farthest from the equator. In the northern hemisphere. The summer solstice occurs around June 21, and the winter solstice about December 21. The summer solstice marks the longest day of the year; the winter solstice, the shortest. 2. A culmination, pinnacle, the high point of a development.

Notes: The days get longer and longer after the winter solstice and shorter and shorter after the summer solstice. The adjective for this word is solstitial, as in solstitial plants and bugs that turn up around the summer solstice. Watch out for the C that changes to a T in the adjective.

In Play: Historically, solstices have been moments for celebration since they represent turning points in the seasons: "Lucretia was known for her summer solstice parties that lasted all day long and well into the night." However, keep in mind that a high point in any progression is also a solstice: "The birth of his daughter was the solstice of Harrigan's life; that day, for him, the sun and all it shone upon stood still."

Word History: Today's Good Word was borrowed via Old French from Latin solstitium, comprising two words: sol "sun" + stitium "stoppage" from sistere "come to a halt, stop". The implication of the Latin word is "the time when the sun stands still". The oldest form of sol seems to have been something like PIE sawel-en, for it turns up with the L in Latin, an N in German (Sonne) and English, and both in Russian: soln-ce (the -ce suffix is an affectionate ending). The Latin stem turns up in many English borrowings like parasol (Italian "blocks sun"), semantically related to umbrella from Latin umbra "shade". Both were originally for protection from the sun, not rain. (We hope the sun always shines for Rodger Collins, who was kind enough to suggest today's word at the word suggestion shop in the Alpha Agora.)

Dr. Goodword,

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